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Global Ideas

Mini turbines help bring winds of change to poor regions

However modest a mini wind turbine may look, it has the potential to supply clean energy to remote rural regions unconnected to the grid in developing nations.

A mini wind turbine

Mini turbines may be small but they're highly effective

It gets dark early in the Andes. Here, close to the Equator, the sun sets for most of the year at around 6 in the evening and only rises 12 hours later. In South American capitals like Lima and Quito, the population switches the lights on as soon as twilight kicks in. But that's not an option in villages up in the Andes, most of which aren't connected to electricity grids.

Across the planet, 1.6 billion people lack access to electricity, most of them in remote regions, and therefore lead their lives according to the changing of the seasons, sunrise and sunset – a way people in Europe and North America stopped living hundreds of years ago.

Decentralizing energy

A solar-wind hybrid system

Solar-wind hybrid systems are gaining ground

The only way to bring electricity to rural areas is to focus on the development of decentralized, renewable energies.

Solar panels on the roofs of huts have become a common sight in many developing nations. These days, micro wind turbines are also becoming increasingly common, capable of covering the energy needs of households and farmsteads as well as being user-friendly and carbon-neutral.

"Mini wind turbines are an excellent opportunity for developing nations," Ulf Gerder from the German Wind Energy Association (BWE) said. In Mongolia, for example, they are often the only source of energy available to nomads. They carry their super-small wind turbines on the back of their horses.

Energy needed for economic progress

A reliable energy supply is a prerequisite for economic development.  The populations of poor countries often depend for their electricity on diesel generators and batteries, which are costly and environmentally damaging. Mini wind turbines, on the other hand, are an efficient solution in terms both of easing poverty and helping the environment.

An East African NGO called Green Africa certainly thinks so, and is aiming to make them more common, installing mini wind turbines in villages in countries such as Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda.

"Access to electricity has a positive effect on many areas of life,"  Green Africa's Kefa Rabah explained. It allows people to recharge mobile phones, for example, without having to head into a nearby town, which might be many kilometers away. And in Africa, cell phones are often a vital means of communication.

Rabah also stressed how much access to electricity improves educational opportunities. "The children of a goat herd only come home after dark, for example," he said. "If there is electricity in their home, they can then still spend a few hours reading and doing homework."

A Palestinian woman carries a bucket on her head as she passes a solar panel, in the West Bank village of Susya near Hebron,

In the West Bank village of Susya, locals use solar panels and wind turbines to illuminate their makeshift homes

But in fact, mini wind turbines are gaining in popularity not only in developing countries and emerging economies. In Europe and North America, they are seen as an attractive source of sustainable energy, and moreover, as affordable thanks to state subsidies supporting renewable energy infrastructure.

Let there be light

However, a major drawback to mini wind turbines in Germany is that while power generated by a photovoltaic system stored in the grid is worth between 24 and 42 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), energy generated by wind power is worth just 9 cents.

"Solar and wind power shouldn't compete, they should complement one another," Gerder from the BWE said. Hybrid energy providers that combine solar and wind power are indeed already available.

The winds of change are already blowing in the region of Cajamarca in the remote northern highlands of Peru. The NGO "Soluciones Practicas" has installed mini wind turbines that provide over 4,000 families with a daily supply of electricity amounting to an average 0.3 kilowatts per hour (kWh).

Moreover, the organization ensures that every village is home to at least one technician able to repair and maintain the technology.  "Soluciones Practicas" has also set up a training center where young people from all over the world can learn about renewable energy and take their expertise home with them.

Micro turbines don't just provide clean energy, they also offer people in remote regions the chance to be connected to the world. In Peru, the technology has already brought light to some of the darkest corners of the country.

Author: Nele Jensch (jp)
Editor: Sonia Phalnikar

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